Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool welcome Paul Lambert and his Aston Villa side to Anfield today for the late kick-off hoping to get the better of this Villa side. Lambert’s men have started the season strongly and will look to continue their good run of results at Anfield where they’ve lost only once in the last five visits.
With the absence of leading frontman Daniel Sturridge, Rodgers will be looking to the rest of his forward line to step up and fill the void left by the 25 year-old. The most obvious of those will be Mario Balotelli who, after coming down with a bug during the week (thankfully not that one called Microsoft Windows!), should be ready to make his home debut. As the visitors are keen exponents of the 4-3-3 formation, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rodgers partner Balotelli with his fellow debutant Adam Lallana as a front two with Raheem Sterling in support and ahead of a midfield diamond.
The rest of the midfield will also see some changes. With both Joe Allen and Emre Can coming back crocked from internationals in the week, it’ll be either Philippe Coutinho or Lazar Marković as Jordan Henderson’s partner in midfield. This will be a crucial area for the game and I’m sure Lambert and his new number two Roy Keane will have identified this area as a weakness to be exploited today. This perhaps, could be an opportunity for Coutinho to step up and turn around a disappointing start to the season. I’d be surprised if there was a start for Lucas Leiva or Fabio Borini. Personally, I think they’re Carling Cup games away on a cold Tuesday night in January material, but let’s see.
In defence, don’t expect to see any changes to the back four that played so well against Tottenham last time out. Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren will be looking to cement their central pairing at the back, whilst Javi Manquillo and Alberto Moreno should be allowed to build in their impressive recent form. As ever, fortunately – or unfortunately perhaps in view of his clearly ageing legs – Steven Gerrard should provide cover for the defence at the bottom of the diamond. Could Rodgers be so incandescently unhinged with anger from the Sturridge situation that he throws a Glen Johnson or a Jose Enrique into the mix? Let’s pray not.
The only weakness in the home side lineup could be the midfield. Coutinho has not had the best of starts this season and I fear his lack of physical presence may hamper the team. We saw this exploited to good effect by Southampton and Man City and consequently Coutinho has hardly featured since, if at all. The Brazilian needs to start having what Sterling is having for dinner in order to make him a more robust proposition and make him a more complete player for the team. In any case, I’m keen to see who the gaffer goes with.
In summary, two things come to mind. Firstly, Lambert has made some good purchases this season with Tom Cleverley, Philippe Senderos and Liverpool rejects Joe Cole and Aly Cissokho among others so his squad is also looking stronger this year. On paper, the hosts would seem to be the stronger side, and I’m hoping this bears true.
Second though, as ole big ‘ed himself Brian Clough once said. “The side looked good on paper. Unfortunately for us, the game was played on grass!”.
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